It was the third day of being In Dhammagiri at Igatpuri – but technically by the Vipassana timetable, it was day two of Vipassana. The first day of arrival and registration is counted as zero. And they say it’s a ten day course, but till the last minute, that is 8 am of the departure day, which is actually day 12 (but they call it 11), we are given tasks to be done.
The schedule started at 4 am as usual. It was easily going to stretch till 10pm. Sigh. A long day ahead. I had not imagined such a rigorous schedule. I had thought it will be a long sought after vacation for myself. But this seemed like a lot of hard work which needed focus and attention. A friend had said I would get a lot of time for myself. But I discovered much to my dismay that all the sections of ‘meditate in your room’ had been converted into ‘group meditation in Dhamma hall’. Of course some people voluntarily opted to be in their rooms (the young lady sitting in front of me was among them). But it felt better to be together. Solitude may not have helped to reign my mind. My Monkey Mind would have drifted just about anywhere in the isolation of my single occupancy room. And with some of yesterday’s experiences, it felt more secure to be where everyone was, in spite of the imposed silence and all the rules.
An important and awesome discovery was knowing that Vipassana was the actual process that Gotama, THE BUDDHA had practiced to attain his own enlightenment. Shri Goenkaji expressed this in his discourse, elaborating further about how the technique was resurrected from forgotten techniques in the Indian subcontinent by Siddharth Gotama, tried and applied on himself, and having gained enlightenment as The Buddha, driven by the force of limitless compassion within, had taught the skill to anyone and everyone willing to learn and apply it. Much later, Emperor Ashoka had helped spread this technique by sending his Dhamma-doots (messengers of Dhamma) all over India and then to other countries and it had been preserved in its almost original form in a Guru-Shishya institute in Burma. https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vipassana_movement
Some time early during the third day, for some reason, the phase of visions disappeared and some other skill level kind-of got unlocked, as it would in a virtual reality game. But, I now had to close my eyes, only to have some thought from the past drift into my mind-screen space and it would grab all the attention. Some person from my past would crop up there. Someone to whom I had something to say – something long and mostly one sided, of course, because in my Mindspace, I was the speaker and everyone was listening. There were now strings of endless monologues with mute important listeners and also endless emails to another list of people who mattered. BUT, WHO mattered and WHO was important was however a decision beyond the Monkey Mind. There were surprises lying in wait here. I had come rather over-smartly, with a pre-prepared list of grievances (Another friend had laughed when she had heard this). But the Mind did not follow it! My Monkey List was brushed aside adroitly. SOMEONE ELSE seemed to be in control and a different list was presented to me on my inner screen. SOMEONE ELSE seemed to know more than ME, about what mattered and what did not! SOMEONE ELSE was the master of the ceremonies, Monkey Mind seemed to be an interactive participant and the show was going on. Monkey Mind was KEPT busy reacting and speaking and writing emails.
There were also moments of lightness now, moments when I would actually just watch the breath and there would be very little thoughts at all. As the process progressed, these moments were a little longer, getting converted to intervals and phases!
Of course there were sad tales from the past which surfaced, tales I had thought did not matter anymore, as I had coped with them bravely. Instances of other people’s behaviour towards me and mine! Things I had done, errors and mistakes, unfairness to others and therefore myself. Pleasant childhood memories did a run. High school crushes brought smiles. There was too much stuff in the archives. There were also instances which I knew would come up. The priority list was jumbled in time and context. The list was mixed up in importance and content. This process went on in bits and pieces for the next 2 days before the hijacking occurred.
Physically, I was caught in the timelessness of one hour merging into another – the repeated cycles of attempts to meditate, go out and drink water, stretch if required (but not in the Dhamma hall), walk along the Shantipath if the need to shake off some adamant thought occurred (but don’t exercise especially with funny postures), watch the breaths, sit cross-legged, change posture, watch the breaths, try vajrasan, watch breath, wait for the bell, watch the breaths, look at the watch surreptitiously, watch the breaths, wait for the chanting to start in Shri Goenkaji’s recorded voice (which was a relief as it would announce the end of a session), watch the breaths and so on. In addition, after every hour inside the Dhamma hall, all of us were instructed to rest FOR FIVE MINUTES. Maybe all the carbon dioxide in the hall had to be cleared. During these intervals all 250 of us literally poured out of the Dhamma hall on to the Shantipath. In this brief time capsule of freedom, I had attempted stretches, like the protagonist of a PG Wodehouse, contorting myself in various directions, feeling muscles used to cycling creaking with disuse. I might have shortly started a local trend, but it was nipped in the bud, when the same evening the silent notice board on the Shantipath announced with a fresh notice: ‘KINDLY DO NOT EXERCISE ON THE SHANTIPATH!’ That was the end to that short story!
Meanwhile, with eye closure I watched the breaths near my nostrils and short films from my past life which the unknown VJ (called SOMEONE ELSE) would play for me. Along with the breath on my upper lip, I was made aware of the small hurts piling up to be big ones and big wounds adding up to massive ones like some complex algebraic equation beyond ones personal mathematical solving skills. Sometimes a funny film was screened, just to keep me off guard, I think. But it made me smile. Gradually everything was fragmented by pauses and stillness. Some sequences seemed to be played again as if the Monkey Mind had asked for an encore. Things were bound to surface and resurface. I remembered having read a little bit of J Krishnamurthy’s thoughts, and I did not retaliate against the short films. But gently guided the Monkey Mind to watch the breath. The screenings and the monologues in the mindspace continued with pauses of silences. The volume grew lesser. There was some stillness now, once in a while and sometimes often.
Sometimes, somebody else’s sorrow also featured in my list, mattering as much as my very own or even more. One such Someone dying, waiting to be told that she did not deserve what had happened to her beautiful self, and that she was loved too deeply to be expressed casually near a hospital bed. A Someone who told the silent, coward me, amidst gasps of breath, that my yellow striped shirt looked so good on me! Soul pinching situation in a timeless loop going on since ages. This time, when the film was being played, I took the opportunity to complete the conversation on my Mindscreen and achieve a mini closure.
Though it helped when Shri Goenkaji gently said in his recorded messages, ‘Hum yahaa vyakul hone nahi aye hai!’ (We haven’t gathered here to be pained and sorrowful!), the elusive equanimity, with which we were asked to watch our breaths, and therefore our thoughts, seemed as yet a distant illusion.
As sometimes tears trickled down my cheeks, I wondered – Had The Buddha too cried as he sat under his tree so many eons ago, watching his breath!? Did he cry for himself or for humanity? Or was it Siddharth Gotama who cried and The Buddha who smiled.